In 1950 a Sunday School class in Hesston, Kansas held a picnic with the hope of bringing a bit more formality to their mutual aid efforts by expressing the common desire to “seek opportunities to be engaged in peaceful, helpful activity… just where we find ourselves.”
Meanwhile, further north and across the Canadian border in Manitoba, the Mennonites were also talking of how they could further organize their mutual aid efforts.
Following significant response efforts to disasters in the mid-West, two Sunday school classes from the Pennsylvania Mennonite Church of Zimmerdale, KS, and the Hesston Mennonite Church formed a joint committee in Kansas to respond to disasters. The Mennonite Service Organization (MSO) was born. Through a series of “picnics in the park,” the group began to define itself and to widen its circle of interest. They took into consideration things such as who was available to help, what skills they had, and how quickly they could respond to disasters.
Soon, the MSO was expanding out of the Midwest to Anabaptist communities across the United States and Canada. By 1952 MSO became Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and in 1955 MDS became a part of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), an inter-Mennonite relief agency. Training schools for field directors began. A mobile office was added in 1956. A film was produced in 1958. Rescue teams were trained and assembled in 1959. Radio equipment was added in 1960. By 1966 Red Cross officials expected MDS to show up at the scene when natural disasters occurred.
In 1993 MDS was incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and amiably separated from MCC. Now on its own, MDS relies on some 4,000 volunteers from Mennonite, Amish and Brethren in Christ churches to annually carry out its ministry to respond, rebuild and restore communities and families hit by disasters in the U.S. and Canada. The MCC continues to respond to international disasters.